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Assessing the ecological soundness of organic and conventional agriculture by means of life cycle assessment (LCA): a case study of leek production

Journal Contribution - Review Article

Purpose - Sustainable agriculture implies the ability of agro-ecosystems to remain productive in the long-term. It is not easy to point out unambiguously whether or not current production systems meet this sustainability demand. A priori thinking would suggest that organic crops are environmentally favourable, but, may ignore the effect of reduced productivity, which shifts the potential impact to other parts of the food provision system. The purpose of this paper is to assess the ecological sustainability of conventional and organic leek production by means of life cycle assessment (LCA).Design/methodology/approach - A cradle-to-farm gate LCA is applied, based on real farm data from two research centres. For a consistent comparison, two functional units (FU) were defined: 1ha and I kg of leek production.Findings - Assessed on an area basis, organic farming shows a more favourable environmental profile. These overall benefits are strongly reduced when the lower yields are taken into account. Related to organic farming it is therefore important that solutions are found to substantially increase the yields without increasing the environmental burden. Related to conventional fanning, important potential for environmental improvements are in optimising the farm nutrient flows, reducing pesticide use and increasing its self-supporting capacity.Research lilmitations/implications - The research is a cradle-to-farm gate LCA, future research can be expanded to comprise all phases from cradle-to-grave to get an idea of the total sustainability of our present food consumption patterns. The research is also limited to the case of leek production. Future research can apply the methodology to other crops.Originality/value - To date, there is still lack of clear evidence of the added value of organic farming compared to conventional farming on environmental basis. Few studies have compared organic and conventional food production by means of LCA. This paper addresses these issues.
ISSN: 0007-070X
Issue: 10
Volume: 111
Pages: 1028 - 1061
Publication year:2009